Photo courtesy of John Thayer
We have recently written about “driverless vehicles”. For older Schauermann Thayer blogs on the subject, click here and here. In any event, one thing that still needs to be seriously looked at by the state Legislatures is: What happens when a driverless vehicle causes injuries to persons or property?
The general rule, now, is that liability attaches to negligent parties. A vehicle is NOT a “party” that the law currently recognizes.
Let's say that you are the innocent victim of a driverless vehicle. Your remedy, as of today, is to sue the billion dollar corporation that manufactured the driverless vehicle. If you sue, you will probably be transferred to Federal Court. You will have to hire engineers to deal with the issues of the cause of the crash and we can certainly bet that it will be a VERY expensive lawsuit that will be fought long and hard by the manufacturer. The costs of those experts would come out of your share of any settlement or verdict and would substantially reduce your share of the outcome.
So what can our state legislatures do?
One thing for them to think about might be making the owner of the driverless vehicle legally responsible for the injuries regardless of whether or not the owner is “negligent”. It would be like an employer's automatic liability for the negligent acts of his, her, or its employees.
Just think of the driverless vehicle being the agent of the owner. If the insurer for the owner were to believe that the driverless vehicle was flawed in some way, he or she could sue the manufacturer of the driverless vehicle in a separate proceeding.
This is just an idea that needs to be explored before driverless vehicles take over our highways, streets and roads.
In any event, hopefully our lawmakers are looking ahead and giving this concern due consideration, as it appears that driverless cars are coming at us, whether we are ready or not.